Keep challenging to find answers to various problems

After graduating from junior high school, she came to Japan from Indonesia at the age of 15. Attended Tabunka Free School, ** where children who came to Japan after graduating from middle school or over school age study to enter high school. After entering high school in Japan, she returned to Indonesia when she was in her third year of high school. Due to circumstances, she lived in Japan again. After working various part-time jobs, she is now working as a full-time employee at a major apparel company. (Age at the time of interview)

Came to Japan at the age of 15 with no Japanese language skills

– Can you tell us about your background, Moana?

I was born in Indonesia and I am 27 years old. My mother is Indonesian and my father is a Korean living in Japan. My parents met in Indonesia, and I moved to Japan to live with them.

– When did you come to Japan?

I was 15 years old, and before that I went to school in Indonesia. When I was five years old, my mother started to move to Japan in earnest, where she had a younger brother, so she lived away from me for a while.

– Why are you the only one left in Indonesia?

Probably because I was always a grandmother’s child. Once, I was in Fukushima for about three months, but I wanted to go back to Indonesia, so I stayed in Indonesia from then until I graduated from junior high school.

– Did you stay in Fukushima all the time in Japan?

I don’t remember exactly what happened after I first went to Fukushima, but we moved to Chiba, where my grandmother’s family lives, before my younger brother started kindergarten, and I’ve been in Chiba ever since.

– What kind of work does your father do in Japan?

I think my father worked for a cable TV company and other companies after we started living together, and then changed jobs and worked as a security guard. My mom and brother work part time in a factory in Japan.

– You didn’t live with your parents until you were 15 years old, what made you decide to come to Japan when you were 15?

I spent about a year at my aunt’s house after my grandmother passed away, but now she’s gone, and I didn’t have any particular reason to come to Japan, but I just came here.

– How was your experience in Japan?

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was culture shock, but I couldn’t talk to my younger brother at all because I had no Japanese language skills. My brother has been speaking in Japanese since kindergarten, and although he can understand what my mother and I are saying in Indonesian, he would reply in Japanese.

– It seems that you have been able to communicate with Moana since she began to understand Japanese. Does your father speak Indonesian?

He could not speak Indonesian very well, so my parents communicated in Japanese all the time.

– How did you spend your time after you came to Japan?

I heard that there was a local cultural center where volunteers were gathering to teach Japanese, so I joined them once a week to learn Japanese. I was only there for about six months, but it was a lot of fun.
At that class, I was introduced to the “Tabunka Free School” run by the Multicultural Center Tokyo, so I enrolled and started studying Japanese.

– So did you start high school at age 16?

I studied at the Tabunka Free School for a year, so I entered when I was 17.

– How were the classes at “Tabunka Free School”?

It was a lot of fun. I was the only Indonesian there, so I had no choice but to speak in Japanese, and I made a lot of good friends while studying Japanese.

Math, which I used to love, became my weakness because of language

– What was the most difficult part of studying at Tabunka Free School?

It wasn’t so much the language study itself, but rather the mock exams and studying the subjects to enter high school that were quite difficult. For example, in mathematics, I could only understand simple content in Japanese, so that was the most difficult part. Even after entering high school, it was quite difficult to learn the subjects.

– What were your grades like in Indonesia until middle school?

So-so, not always, but I got first place in my class a few times. When I was in Indonesia, I liked mathematics. After I came to Japan, math became my least favorite.

– Did you think to yourself, “If only I could speak Japanese”?


– Is there a foreigner quota for admission to high school?

Yes, I did. I entered Matsudo International High School with only an essay in Japanese and an interview. It was my first time to have an interview in Japanese, so I was really nervous. There were two courses, the regular course and the international course, and I entered the international course. There were many foreign students.

– How was your high school life?

Everyone was quite cheerful and listened to me, and we all naturally formed our own groups. There were quite a few Japanese kids who were interested in their foreign classmates.

– So do you communicate in Japanese?

It was completely in Japanese. I was quite anxious when I first entered the school, but I managed to get through it.

– As you said earlier, were the math classes difficult?

I had a hard time with math, and my understanding of science and Japanese was quite slow, so I had to take it slow with different teachers after school, etc. Only five of us were taught at different times, so it was like a private class.

Returned to Japan temporarily in the third year of high school

– Did you have some sort of private lesson in your first year of high school, and did you feel like it was a similar process after your second year?

Yes, I did. I was there for two years, and then I had to go back to Japan for a while. I don’t remember how I felt about it, but I felt like I wanted to go back to Indonesia. Maybe I was tired of everything. I asked my mother to let me go back to Indonesia. So, I was only in Indonesia for my third year of high school. It wasn’t that I was bullied at school in Japan, or that the classes were so difficult and stressful, but I guess I was satisfied.

– How did you feel when you returned to Indonesia to spend the first year of your senior year in high school? Did you feel any gap between Japan and Indonesia?

I found mathematics easy. It made me want to study again. I still have my Japanese math textbook, although I don’t understand it now, because I have fond memories of it.

– Maybe the desire to look back properly one more time someday is in you. Didn’t your Indonesian language skills become more difficult after entering high school in Indonesia?

At first, I was told that my pronunciation was strange. Indonesian is not particularly difficult to pronounce, but I think it was pronounced like Japanese.

– What did you do after you graduated from high school in Indonesia?

I entered a local university in Indonesia. I applied for International Relations as my first choice, but I failed there and entered the Japanese Language Department as my second choice. I really had to learn from the basics of Japanese, so it was very easy.

– You went to high school in Japan, you know.

I was able to have conversations with the Japanese teachers. However, I was not feeling well at the time, and even though it had only been three months, I decided to go back to Japan. My mother was in Japan, and it would have been a problem for my relatives, so I dropped out of college and came back to Japan. I’ve been in Japan ever since.

– What did you think when you came back to Japan?

I didn’t have much trouble with Japanese. I thought it was a warm country. After I came back to Japan, I didn’t go to university, but continued to receive treatment for my illness, and after about six months, I started working part-time.

– What was your part-time job?

At first, I worked at convenience stores and cafes. I also worked as an intern at the Multicultural Center Tokyo for a while. The next year, I decided to try my hand at translating between Indonesian and Japanese, so I worked at a translation company for about half a year.

– How difficult was the translation work?

It was hard work, but I enjoyed it because it was something I was interested in. There were about two Indonesian people at the translation company. One of them didn’t understand Japanese that well, but she was working behind the scenes at the apparel company where I work now. That person told me about it, and I quit the translation company and joined the apparel company. I started as a part-timer and eventually became an employee. Anyway, I was doing everything I could at that time. I worked part-time at three different companies and was also registered with a temp agency.

It would have been nice to have an exchange between students with immigrant background and adults.

– When you were a high school student in Japan, are there any things you wish you could have done better, or any support you wish you had?

I wish I could have had more opportunities to interact with people of foreign origin who are now working people. If I had been able to hear more stories about working people, I might not have gone back to Indonesia, or I might have decided to find a job in Japan.

– What did your mother say about you going back to Indonesia after going to the second grade of high school in Japan?

I was told quite a bit. But I wanted to go home, so my mother felt like she had no choice but to let me go. My relatives in Indonesia also seemed to welcome me.

– Is there anything you would have done differently if you had received a scholarship?

I think that’s pretty big. My family was on the ropes financially. I also went back to Indonesia because it was cheaper to pay for university entrance exams there. I wanted to reduce the burden on my parents as much as possible.

– It must have been difficult for your parents to pay the entrance fee for the Japanese high school, the tuition for the “Tabunka Free School”, and the money for the transfer to Indonesia, but did you have any problems with that?

I think it was quite difficult. So now I feel like I’ve reflected on it and am working hard. I live by myself, so I don’t have a fixed amount every month, but I give it to my parents if I need it.

– Did you have any dreams about the kind of job you wanted to have in Japan?

I don’t have a specific dream, but I am interested in various things. I would like to be an English teacher for small children or a caviar attendant. Or an office worker who uses a lot of English.

– Is English often used in Indonesia?

It varies from person to person, but I think Indonesians are the ones who use English. I’m not that good, but I can use a little bit. However, I have been studying Japanese, so my English skills have been declining.

– Did going back to Indonesia in your senior year of high school change the direction of your future?

At that time, my Japanese was good, and I studied Japanese at university, so I thought it would be good if I could find a job where I could use Japanese.

– In Indonesia, do you feel that you can get a good job if you go to university?

Because of the large population, the employment rate itself is quite low, and there are not many places to work or opportunities to work. I don’t think you can get hired just because you have a Japanese language degree. IT people are needed the most.

Searching for the next path while working as an adult

– How long have you been a full-time employee of the apparel company?

This is my fifth year there.

– Isn’t it about time you became a leader or something?

Yes, I’m in charge of the business from 7:00 a.m., and I’m in charge of figuring out how to handle the work while the business is open, and following up on what everyone else has failed to do before the store closes.

– It’s tough. You have to deal with complaints, right?

Yes, I have. I am used to receiving complaints. Since I was a part-timer, I’ve been told that this guy probably doesn’t understand Japanese, but now I’m on the side of the people who depend on me, so I think I have to be strong.

– So you have to help the young people. After working as a full-time employee for five years, do you have any ideas about what you would like to do in the future?

Actually, I’m thinking of changing jobs now. Not because there is something I don’t like, but because at my current age, I need to become a store manager in the future. I’m not aiming to become a manager, so I’ve been thinking about what to do next since the beginning of this year. That said, I haven’t even graduated from college, so I’m thinking that changing jobs as a high school graduate would be a pretty big problem.

– Would you consider starting college all over again?

I’ll think about it, but finances are pretty tight, so I’m not sure what I’ll do. There are online certification courses and night schools, so I’m thinking of checking them out and studying while working.

– If you were to re-enter university, what direction do you envision yourself going in?

IT-related, I guess. I’m quite interested in computers, just curious, but I think it would be good if it helps me in my work.

Moana has continued to challenge herself, thinking for herself and seeking answers to the various problems she faces every day. Her journey has not been a straight line, but I think we can all learn a lot from her story as she moves forward step by step.

**multicultural free school
A school run by the Multicultural Center Tokyo, a non-profit organization. The school provides a place to live and learn mainly for students who have come to Japan after graduating from junior high school or are over the school age to enter high school in Japan.

Interviewing: Mika Hitomi
Writing: Hiroshi Yoshida